Two hard things about living authentically:
You can’t live up to the reputation it gives you.
It costs a lot.
Let’s look at these two things.
Reputation is a judgment by others. I either trust you are good, bad or somewhere in between from your reputation. My perception of your reputation may have formed from your interactions with me, people I know, society at large. But what happens when I pursue God hard and develop a reputation as his man or woman?
People are hungry for authenticity. They latch on, and our god-like reputation grows. But the truth is, saints are like Elijah. They can call down fire one day and be depressed or crippled with fear the next. A saint can speak the truth, like Jesus did about his coming hardship, and find themselves misunderstood even by their closest circle. Failure to obey the Lord clearly damages our reputations, but even good leaders, who are obedient to God’s call will find moments of conflict over personal reputation.
A good piece of advice is to stay focused on God’s reputation and let him worry about defending yours. But the challenge remains, a good reputation is a form of honor or trust. Societies transact on trust. Economies crumble if lack of trust leads to hyper-regulation or pervasive corruption. Communities thrive on mutual trust, when our reputations all remain intact.
So what happens when leaders like Ravi Zacharias disappoint us, when the halo bubble pops? How many both inside and outside of the church have pain in their heart because of the betrayal of reputation, of perceived integrity? There are many leaders who we can say “ran their race well” at the end of the day, but most of them don’t have VIP or celebrity status. They are not giants; they are giant killers, who like the wise man of King Solomon’s musings, saved a city and then were quickly forgotten again. VIP status in the church should be a RIP flashing yellow light.
As long as reputation equates with power that we commoditize, buy and sell, it will disappoint. Anything based on power over things will eventually disillusion us. But power under things (as in undergirding or providing support and security), takes much grace, and does not creep into oppression. This is true authenticity – using our power and resources to build up rather than control.
Cost of Authenticity
Our patriarch of faith, Abraham offers a look into authentic lifestyle. The environment of his day was violent, and several times, fearing for his life, he had Sarah speak awkward words before kings. He instructed her to share the truth that she was his sister, while leaving out the truth that she was also his wife. This practice actually became a generational pattern that eventually manifested in Jacob’s family troubles. This choice does tarnish the history books, but Abraham also made some powerful choices which make him shine too.
Abraham’s journey of faith demonstrates the principal of releasing any grasp of power you have over your destiny. Abraham had some distinct moments where he chose to lay down power. The first time we see this is when Abraham gives his nephew Lot the better pasture land. The contrast is stark between Abraham and Lot’s life journeys following this divergence.
The first consequence of Lot’s choice becomes apparent when 4 Kings raid and capture 5 Kings including Sodom and Gomorrah’s prosperous territories. Lot is swept up in this, and his household and wealth become spoils of war, slaves of the 4 kings. When Abraham receives news of Lot’s capture, he gathers his men and a few friends he is in alliance with and pursues these kings, waging guerrilla warfare tactics and soundly defeating them.
After the victory, a priest of impressive reputation, King Melchizedek, comes with bread and wine for a covenantal feast. This sets Abraham up to become a king himself. He has political and religious backing, spoils of war, military might and potentially thousands of slaves, many from the LGBTQ community of the day.
Here is the dilemma: God has promised Abraham this land, but how is it won? Here lies the challenge: Will Abraham use the power of conquest and a reputation coming from other leaders (the “whose who” group) to position him for his destiny? For Abraham, the choice is a decisive, “No!”
“I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’”
Genesis 14:22–23 (ESV)
This choice set Abraham on a path of generational destiny versus imminent personal destiny. But the decision itself demonstrates Abraham’s attentiveness to use of power. Though he used power to bring justice, he quickly stepped away from the magnetic conclusion: now that I have power, I should hold it, consolidate it and control even further. Abraham made a conscious decision to not become a king.
This was a high cost, because the earthly opportunity never came back to him. Shortly after, God promised Abraham a son from Sarah. This was a wonderful miracle promise but Abraham’s stewardship from that moment focused on a child who carried prophetic promise in his spiritual DNA, not an assent into kingly power.
Destiny is something we offer back to God, often by sowing the best of it into others. There is much more that could be said here, but I leave you to ponder a man who had the promised land within quick grasp, but turned down the opportunity to use human power to make it so.